David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

By: David Wilsey

Nov 22, 2016 4531 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
I learned two lessons in college that I still think about – one in the kitchen and one as a strategy execution consultant. My professor claimed during a cell biology lesson that if you leave iceberg lettuce in water for about 20 minutes its cells expand as they soak up the water. He said that many chefs knew that soaking lettuce in cold water made it seem fresher and crunchier but few understood that it was because the cells were packed to the bursting point.

I went home for the holidays eager to share this new lesson with my mother. This is where I learned the consulting lesson. 

My mother had been taught that in order to keep salad crisp, you should throw a slice of bread into the salad as you are making it and then pull the bread out just before serving. The thinking was that the bread soaked up the excess moisture that would otherwise lead to wilting.

When I shared my professor’s theory with her, I assumed that we would immediately begin saving a nickel per month due to all that saved bread. Instead I was surprised to find that my mother was not about to change the way she made salad because of something her son’s biology professor said, not even after I showed her that the lettuce didn’t wilt.

Strategy execution is about transformation. It is about the systematic implementation of the changes needed to move an organization forward. Unfortunately, as you try to convince people to change the way they do things, many of them react exactly like my mother did.

The change management field is built around several general principles in how to manage people through change: thoroughly communicate how/why/what change is happening, look for the “what’s-in-it-for-me” for employees, communicate using two-way dialog, remove barriers to change, celebrate success, describe a “burning platform”, etc. Strategy execution specialists bring a few more key approaches to these basic doctrines. 

Engage Around the Big Picture. A simple business case (e.g. this initiative will help us improve process efficiency and lower operating costs) often isn’t enough. To embrace change it helps to understand how a particular initiative is aligned with the overall strategy of the organization (e.g. we want to bring low cost healthcare solutions to those suffering from an ailment. If we can improve this process, the solution could be better, more consistent, and cheaper than anyone else in the market). Employees will be far more motivated to change if they believe in the strategy. Strategy professionals typically have the skills needed to articulate and communicate that story.

Make Strategy Everyone’s Job. Strategy is a team sport. Too many strategy professionals think that because they are good at it they should do all of the work themselves. But good strategy execution relies on others to implement. I can tell my mother that this is a better way or (if she were an employee) order her to follow a new process, but as long as she can dismiss the idea as an outsider’s, change will be painful. Good strategy execution professionals understand that their job is to facilitate a consensus around a shared vision rather than simply dream up a vision in a vacuum.

Pick Your Battles. Strategy is about focus and strategic thinkers should be good at prioritizing. The worst thing you can do is overwhelm employees with dozens of major changes at the same time and then when things go badly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Better is to pick the most important changes and implement them at a pace that the organization can handle. Then think through and communicate the timeline, action steps, and resource changes that will happen as the change is rolled out.

Facilitate a Sense of Inevitability. The weakest client outcomes in my career happened when there was uncertainty about whether or not the senior-most executives were on board. A well-meaning strategic planning director that isn’t visibly supported by the executive team will struggle to move an organization forward even if they do everything else right. On the other hand, if the executive team has thoroughly and repeatedly communicated that this change is going to happen with or without you, the inertia of inevitability will convince people to jump on the bandwagon even if other change management mistakes are made.

David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

The Ultimate KPI Cheat Sheet

By: David Wilsey

Jun 9, 2015 11081 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
We’ve received a lot of interest in our new KPI Certification Program. In fact, one woman said she couldn’t wait until the first scheduled program offering. She also wanted to know if we had a handy list of the most important principles – she wanted a cheat sheet! So in the interest in tiding her (and others) over, below I have compiled a few of the most important KPI tips and tricks. There are many more of course, so if you think I’ve missed anything, please add them in the comments section below.

Strategy comes first!
A training student told me his organization is struggling to implement measures for brand equity, customer engagement, and a few others because they believed the measures didn’t really apply to their company. I asked him why they were implementing those measures if they didn’t seem to apply, and he said they had found them in a book. They had no strategy or goals of any sort, and yet somehow thought they had a measurement problem.  

KPIs found in a book of measures don’t necessarily mean anything in relation to your strategy.  If you don’t have a strategy and/or can’t articulate what you are trying to accomplish, it is too early for KPIs.

KPI Development is a Process
I am embarrassed to admit that the first time I facilitated the development of performance measures with a client, I stood in front of a blank flip chart and asked them to brainstorm potential measures. It was my first consulting engagement as a junior associate and the project lead had stepped out to take an emergency phone call. Even though I had a basic understanding of what good KPIs looked like, I couldn’t help the client come up with anything other than project milestones (“complete the web redesign by August”), improvement initiatives (“we need to redesign the CRM Process”), or vague ideals (“customer loyalty”). What I didn’t understand at the time is that you need to use a deliberate process for developing KPIs, based on the intended results within your strategy. And like any other process, KPI development requires continuous improvement discipline and focus to get better.

Articulate Intended Results Using Concrete, Sensory-Specific Language
Strategy teams have a habit of writing strategy in vague, abstract ideals. As you pivot from strategy to measurement, it is critical that you articulate what this strategy actually looks like using concrete language that you could see, hear, taste, touch or smell. A vaguely written strategic objective like Improve the Customer Experience might get translated into checkout is fast, or facilities are safe and clean. Improve Association Member Engagement might get translated into a result of members volunteer for extracurricular activities. I’ve seen strategy teams shift from 100% agreement on vague ideals to diametric opposition on potential intended results, indicating that their consensus around strategy was actually an illusion.  Use simple language a fifth-grader could understand to describe the result you are seeking. If you spend your time honing this intended result, the most useful performance measures almost jumps out at you.

It’s not about the Dashboard!
Dashboard software is great when it is used to support a well-designed strategic management system. Unfortunately, many people are more interested in buying a flashy new tool than they are in understanding how they are performing (a topic I’ve talked about before). KPIs are not about a dashboard. KPIs are about articulating what you are trying to accomplish and then monitoring your progress towards those goals. A dashboard is the supporting tool and too much emphasis on technology misses and often distracts us from the point.

It’s not about the KPIs!
Speaking of people missing the point, we have many clients who think this process begins and ends with the KPIs themselves. Unfortunately, some of these folks are simply trying to meet a reporting requirement or prepare for a single important meeting. This type of approach completely misses the power of KPI development, which is that KPIs provide evidence to inform strategic decisions and enable continuous improvement.

For more about how to improve KPI development in your organization, see our KPI Professional Certification Program or The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

Identify Strategic Thinking with One Simple Question

By David Wilsey

Jul 29, 2014 18015 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
I used to work on a research team for a company that produced an operational risk software product. I always found it interesting how different members of the same team answered an important question: what do you do?

Here is the way Person A and Person B responded:

Person A: We do research on the internet and enter data points into an operational risk database.

Person B: We help banks understand operational risk and how much related capital they were required to reserve by providing an analytical software solution that models operational risk in the global market.

Technically both answers were correct. For the data model to be statistically significant, the product needed a certain number of data points, and our research team’s job was to research and categorize examples of operational loss in order to populate the database and make the model work. And yet, somehow Person A’s answer was always unsatisfying for some people.

It might be tempting to say that Person B was simply exaggerating the importance of their work by describing it in terms of the mission of the product line, but I think that misses an important point about the value of thinking strategically no matter what your position with the organization is. Person A was simply describing our job. Person B was describing how we created value. Different ways of describing our work was actually a window into the strategic thinking style of the team members.

From Daniel Pink to Simon Sinek and others, much has been said and written about how people are more motivated and productive when they understand the larger context for their work. Understanding why they are doing the work is profoundly important for creative professionals to feel a sense of engagement. Helping employees transition from narrowly thinking about what they do to more broadly thinking about what they are trying to accomplish can improve organizational performance in a number of ways.

The good news is that strategic thinking is a teachable skill. In our BSC Certification courses, we begin by teaching the basic semantics of strategy. At first, students mechanically append or replace the “task” language that most are comfortable with (we need to develop a new service by milestone x) with language that reflects a higher level objective (we want to improve the customer experience; the development of a new services is one option for accomplishing that). Over time, mechanical semantics evolve into an instinct for intuitively thinking about the strategic context. As students change the way they think about strategy and action, critical thinking skills improve as well (e.g. if we are trying to improve the customer experience, is a new service really the best way to do it?). The transition for many teams from always focusing on tactics and actions to always starting with the big picture and working down can be quite profound.

For more about how to improve strategic thinking in your organization, see our Balanced Scorecard Certification Program or The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

4 Reasons Business Intelligence Systems are Like an (Unused) Gym Membership

By: David Wilsey

May 23, 2014 10925 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
My business intelligence (BI) and analytics software salesman friend said something interesting to me the other day over lunch. He said, “I don't sell software, I sell gym memberships. When someone joins a gym they are not really buying the membership. They are buying the dream of improved health and a better physique. Their intention is to work out every day and fulfill that dream, despite the fact that few people ever actually follow up. Selling BI software is the same way. I'm not selling the software; I’m selling the dream of improved insight and competitive advantage.”

The unspoken implication was that few people ever get significant benefit from their software system, a conclusion I have also observed over my years in strategic performance management.

There are many common reasons that your strategic performance management software system might be getting less use than the gym membership you bought last January.  Below are the top 4 that I’ve seen as well as some tips for avoiding them.  

Reason 1: You bought into the hype but not the skills
I overheard a CEO recently saying that he needed to buy into the big data craze.  It was clear that this person had no idea what big data or predictive analytics meant, but he definitely needed to buy some.  Many people seem to think if they just buy some software, within weeks a “number cruncher” will magically come down from a mountain with answers to all of their problems. That is like thinking that if I buy a shovel, a garden will magically appear in my back yard. Performance management and statistical analysis skills are critical to creating value in this field.
 
Reason 2: You keep the results a secret
The first question some people ask when considering a performance system is, “how do I keep everyone out of my data?”  Security around private customer, employee, or some financial information is an absolute must, but a surprising amount of strategic organizational performance information can be shared with leaders and managers.  Leaders need information to make decisions and limiting access can communicate that strategy management is something to be left to only a select few.  Analyzing data is only the first step.  The dialog around why the results occurred and what should happen next are just as critical.
 
Reason 3: You only use out-of-the-box performance report design
The standard templates provided by the software companies are almost always designed to make the software sell well, as opposed to informing YOUR strategic decision making. Good performance reports communicate three things clearly: 1) How is OUR organization currently performing, 2) Why are WE getting the results that we are getting?  And 3) What are WE doing to improve our results?

Reason 4: You count and report on everything that can be counted.
Just because the vendor promises that this tool can handle the volume doesn’t mean that this is a good idea. Strategic performance management is about focusing on the most critical things first. I would recommend selecting a handful of critical performance gaps and focus your data collection, analysis, and improvement efforts on those.  Teach everyone in your organization how to do this effectively before you expand to other areas.

There are many more common mistakes, but these four are top of mind for me.  Please share other mistakes you’ve seen in the comments section below.

For more about how to improve your performance analysis, see the Performance Analysis chapter of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
Gail Stout Perry Gail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Don’t Be THAT Guy!

By Gail Stout Perry

May 15, 2014 9258 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
A very distraught woman (we’ll refer to her as Vera) recently called the Balanced Scorecard Institute office in panic.

Vera:  “Hello?  I need those flags.  Can you please overnight the flags to me?  It’s urgent!”  

Us:  “Excuse me?  I think you may have the wrong number?”

Vera:  “Isn’t this the Balanced Scorecard Institute?”

Us:  “Yes, ma’am.  But we don’t sell flags.”

Vera:  “Yes, you do.  My boss said so.”

Us: “Ummmmm….could you elaborate?”

Vera (in an exasperated tone):  “Listen!  My boss just announced that we are going to improve performance using a Balanced Scorecard.  He sent us a memo that said each store is responsible for showing performance by using red, yellow and green flags.  I’m a store manager and I am being held RESPONSIBLE!  I called the other store managers and nobody has the flags.  We all need to order those flags NOW!  You ARE the Balanced Scorecard Institute, are you not?!?”

I really am not sure we ever adequately explained to her that the “flags” are a term meaning a visual representation of the level of performance around a target value for a strategic objective or measure, with green generally indicating good performance, yellow generally indicating satisfactory performance, or red indicating poor performance.  And I’m pretty sure she thinks we are idiots for giving a complex response to a simple request to order some flags that she can wave.

For the record, I am not making fun of the caller herself.  She was an intelligent woman and obviously a dedicated worker.  But she was dreadfully misinformed and the source of the misinformation is the point of this blog.

My point is that her boss created angst and confusion in his organization by making an announcement with no explanation and no context.  HE knows his strategy, HE knows how he wants to measure performance on it, HE created a balanced scorecard to do so (without teaching anyone what that means), and HE announced it to the world and then said “YOU are responsible!”  

Don’t be that guy.  

Many bosses / executives / leaders are really smart.  They have a well-thought out strategy in their heads and they can make the leap from planning to execution…in their head.  But they are better at internal conversation (in their own head) than they are at communicating with others.   If this sounds familiar, let us help you bridge the gap between what you say and what your employees hear.  
I’ve written another blog about this topic (
Are Strategic Leaps of Logic Leaving You Dazed and Confused?), because this problem comes up over and over again.  

Please contact us and let us help. 

Or to learn more about how to translate your strategy into something that is clear to communicate in a way that employees can understand and effectively contribute to, we invite you to explor
e The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
Dan Montgomery Dan Montgomery

Dan is Senior Associate for the Balanced Scorecard Institute. An accomplished facilitator and trainer, Dan has a 30 year background as a manager, management consultant and executive coach. His previous professional consulting experience includes work with Accenture and Ernst & Young.

In Search of the Canadian Hippo

By Dan Montgomery

Feb 24, 2014 3976 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
During the years we lived in Canada, my family became fond of Canadian Heritage Moments.  These were sixty-second vignettes that depicted formative moments in Canadian history.

One of my favorites has the intrepid French explorer Jacques Cartier arriving in the valley of the St. Lawrence River in the year 1534 and encountering a group of Iroquois. The leader of the tribe approaches the French party and invites them to visit his nearby village.  The viewer, having the benefit of English subtitles, learns that the word for village in Iroquois is “kanata.”

Cartier turns to the priest on his right and asks “What is he saying, father?” The priest hesitates a moment and then announces confidently: “He is saying that the name of this nation is Canada!”  A helpful and obviously intelligent young man steps up behind Cartier and says “Begging your pardon, sir, but he’s inviting you to visit him in his village. Canada is his word for village.” The priest asserts his authority, dismissing the young man, and off they go.  And the rest is history!

Enjoy the story at http://tinyurl.com/k84fsdk

When exploring new territory, it’s best to draw as much as possible on the collective intelligence of the group when assessing the situation. This is truer than ever in our organizations, and at least as true as it was in Cartier’s time.  Cartier, after all, thought he was in Asia.

One of the biggest mistakes we make in strategic planning is assuming that the future will be more or less like the past. It won’t. It’s critical to articulate – and question – our assumptions about the environment we operate in, in terms of what our customers value, what our competition is offering, and the impacts of big forces like technology and the economy.

Many of our organizational ways derive from a simpler time, when we could rely on the experience of people who’d been around longer for an accurate assessment of the situation. In one of my classes, a student raised his hand and said “That’s what we call the HiPPO principle.  It means that decisions are made based on the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.”

In rapidly changing times, making strategic assessments and decisions based on what worked in the past may prove short sighted. A well-managed system for tracking and reporting strategic metrics is the compass that leaders and staff throughout the organization can use to learn from experience and align their actions in pursuit of better value for customers.

We recommend that you:
  • Schedule periodic reviews of your assumptions about your macro-environment and stay tuned for new information that may challenge these assumptions
  • Agree on the strategic performance metrics that matter to you as an integral part of your planning process – not after the fact
  • Maintain an especially acute focus on tracking customer experience and value
  • Incorporate those metrics into your scorecard and make scorecard review a regular item on your leadership meeting agenda
David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

"Fight" of the Bumblebee

By: David Wilsey

Feb 14, 2014 14315 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
Have you heard the common legend that scientists have proven that bumblebees, in terms  of aerodynamics, can’t fly?  This is a myth that came about because about eighty years ago an aerodynamicist made this statement based on an assumption that the bees’ wings were a smooth plane.  It was reported by the media before the aerodynamicist actually looked at the wing under a microscope and found that the assumption was incorrect.  While the scientist and the media issued retractions, the legend lives on.

Unfortunately, in the management world, decisions are made every day based on “legends” rather than on real evidence. At a manufacturing company I once worked for, it was a well-known “fact” that it was more profitable to discount prices to increase volume in a particular market.  Even after a team of business managers proved discounting was a money loser, certain sales managers continued to rigorously advocate for the discount strategy for years.  I like to refer to any ongoing argument like this as the "Fight" of the Bumblebee.  This fight is the most difficult when the bumblebee argument is emotionally compelling (they’re not supposed to be able to fly!) and the truth is difficult to convey (bumblebees’ wings encounter dynamic stall in every oscillation cycle, whatever that means). Everyone loves a discount and can see pallets of product going out the door.  Not everyone understands some of the indirect nuances that contribute to profit.

Winning the fight of the bumblebee is dependent on making sure that you are interpreting, visualizing, and reporting performance information in a meaningful way.  People have to be trained to appreciate the difference between gut instinct and data-driven decision making.  Once they see analysis done well a couple of times, they will start asking for it.

The key to interpreting a measurement is comparison. And the trick is to display the information in a way that effectively answers the question, Compared to what?  Visualizing performance over time identifies trends that show data direction and development and provide context for the underlying story relative to strategy. The simplest and most effective way I’ve seen for consistently visualizing data is with a Smart Chart (or XmR chart), a tool showing the natural variation in performance data.

Once you have a better idea of how to interpret your data, reporting the information in a way that is meaningful is important.  Reports should always be structured around strategy, so that people have the right context to understand what the data is about.  Reports should answer basic questions you need to know, such as what is our current level of performance?, why are we getting that result?, and what are we going to do next?

For more about how to interpret, visualize and report performance, see The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
Gail Stout Perry Gail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

By Gail Stout Perry

Nov 7, 2013 51043 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

Dateline: CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait. First, let me acknowledge that for some inexplicable reason, my career has repeatedly veered into Department of Defense work and this little fact is extremely amusing to those who know that my idea of “roughing it” means staying in less than a four-star hotel and, even worse, having to eat with plastic utensils and use paper napkins.  Nonetheless, I and my high heels are frequently found traipsing across military bases.

I was recently on yet another military base and had the opportunity to visit with a former Institute student – a U.S. Army Colonel.  He had deployed to Kuwait just days after attending our Balanced Scorecard Boot Camp course in 2011.  Upon arrival he found that the Army Contracting Command for which he was to be responsible was faced with tremendous challenges – from dealing with perceptions of corruption in the local supply chain to managing the extreme complexities of contracting for all of the products and services needed by the Army in such a challenging location. 
 
This particular command needed a rapid transformation in order to achieve his vision of “being recognized by our customers as the best contracting office in the U.S. Army.”  -  a bold vision considering the challenges that he and his team were facing.

But before his tour of duty had ended, his contracting command had, indeed, received accolades and acknowledgement as being one of the best Army Contracting Commands anywhere in the world

How did he lead his Command to achieve this vision in such a short time period?  He applied his new knowledge and developed a strategic balanced scorecard.

A few “secrets” to the success of his scorecard implementation should sound familiar to students of The Institute Way:

  • Leadership Engagement: Command & staff meetings utilized statistics on a dashboard tool to provide a snapshot status of where the organization was in accomplishing the strategic plan objectives.
  • Incorporating the “Voice of the Customer”: The team regularly conducted customer satisfaction surveys to obtain feedback in order to sustain or improve the contracting processes within the command.
  • Alignment: The command’s managers embraced the strategic scorecard and used it for employee counseling and to track personnel contributions.

Army Public Affairs subsequently featured the command’s accomplishments – to learn more:  http://www.army.mil/article/71433

To learn more about how to achieve transformational results for your organization or to read more stories of break-through success, we invite you to explore The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.


Gail Stout Perry Gail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Dear Abby-Gail: How Much is Too Much?

By Gail Stout Perry

Oct 29, 2013 5694 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

There has been a lot of interest in my recent blog post:  “Balanced Scorecard Gone Bad: What’s that Funky Smell?”  Several people have posted comments and questions in various forums, but one in particular deserves special attention.
  
From Gary: I believe a key point in your message is that a strategy is never static due to external changes (e.g., competitor moves, new technologies), so it will require continuous adjusting.  But this raises a different question. Since as strategic objectives change or the emphasis of what to accomplish within strategic objectives change, this means some KPIs may be dropped and others added (or their weightings may need to be tweaked). As a result, how much change in KPIs can an organization tolerate?

Dear Gary: This is an excellent question.  When strategy changes, then KPIs will have to change. Organizational tolerance to change is affected by several things. 

(1) Is the scorecard system engrained in the organizational culture such that management trusts the system and uses it to make decisions?  If so, they will have relatively high tolerance for change in the KPIs because they understand that the change is necessary if they are to continue to rely upon the system to make strategically relevant decisions. 

(2) Given that you know you need to adjust the KPI, how quickly can you achieve 7 data points on the new or adjusted KPI?  In other words, is there baseline information available that will help you quickly establish an XmR chart?  If not, can you achieve frequent enough reporting points to have useful trend analysis within 6 months?  If you were using an excellent KPI in the past and then switch to one in which it will be a year (or more) before you have enough data for management to have the 7 data points needed to make statistically sound decisions, this will cause frustration and lower the tolerance for the necessary change.

(3) Can your software system handle these changes without losing your historical performance on the objective (assuming the objective does not change)?  Knowing that you won’t be throwing away historical information increases tolerance for change.

(4) What about rewards tied to KPIs?  How do your Human Resources processes link individual or group performance and incentives to KPI performance?  What will be the result of changing a KPI right now?  If it can’t be changed due to a covenant with employees, can it be removed from the calculation so that you don’t keep working towards an “expired strategy”?

I invite feedback from others.  What else has impacted your organization’s tolerance for needed change in its KPIs?  And does anyone want to share their tips for overcoming resistance to this sort of change?

For more challenges and solutions, we invite you to explore The Institute Way: Simply Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

The Strategic Planning Wheel of Doom

By David Wilsey

Oct 25, 2013 7923 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

Hamster wheelI talked to a student from one of our classes over a year after the class to see how things were going, and she told me a long story about how they were still debating the exact wording of objective number 9.  I asked her if they had reached their targets on any key measures and she said that they were still tweaking the measurement data definition.  So a year after the class, they were still just thinking about how to get started!

In our recent webinar, we named this as one of our Top Eight Strategic Management Horrors, dubbing it the Wheel of Doom.  This horror is where the strategic management team begins the strategy formulation and planning process and is never heard from again.  They wordsmith the mission and vision statements for weeks.  They argue for months about the SWOT analysis.  They change strategic themes four times.  They refine the strategy map for months and months, and so on, without ever moving on.

So what is the solution?  How do you get the hamster off that wheel?

My first recommendation is to set a deadline.  In other words, if you start your strategic planning effort on September 1, set a deadline of, say, October 31.  On that date, everyone should agree that we will no longer wordsmith strategy but will instead discuss our performance results.  We won’t have to have the entire system done, but we will have at least a couple of important measures in place so that we can discuss how we are performing versus our strategic objectives.

The second thing that is critical to always remember the old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. None of this is written in stone.  Strategic planning is an iterative process and so implementing an 80% solution quickly is better than drawing out the process trying to create the perfect system.  It’s easier to maintain momentum if you can maintain high energy and move on quickly.

The third recommendation is to keep it simple.  Remember you can’t do everything for everyone.  Be a brutal minimalist at each step of the way to keep the number of objectives and measures down.  Then when you start executing strategy, focus on just a few key focus areas to start. Focus on improving 1-3 key processes that will drive the highest priority gaps in performance.

Finally, it seems like common sense for people that are good with action items, but some folks are intimidated by long term projects and so they never get going.  They literally don’t know where to start. For those of you that struggle with that, the first step is to take those long-term, complex initiatives and break them down into shorter-term tasks.  Then get started on the first task.

For more on how to improve strategic planning and move on to strategy execution, see The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

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